SF Chronicle – Vacant foreclosed homes spawn blight, crime

Robert Klein, CEO of Safeguard Properties, was quoted in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about vacant properties in high-risk areas.

Vacant foreclosed homes spawn blight, crime

Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Next door to Jeffrey Cash’s tidy East Oakland bungalow sits a boarded-up foreclosed house that has been vacant for months, attracting locals who shoot dice in the driveway, smoke crack on the porch and dump debris in the yard, he said.

“I call the cops on a regular basis, but it is an ongoing battle,” he said. “It’s a part-time job making sure it doesn’t become more of an eyesore than it already is.”

Last week, someone hurled a brick through Cash’s front window – he thinks in retaliation for his frequent contacts with the police.

His situation is emblematic of a larger problem. The droves of vacant foreclosures nationwide and locally, many of them clustered in low-income areas, act as magnets for crime and create neighborhood blight, according to residents and civic leaders. While cities try to fight back, in many cases the sheer volume is so overwhelming that their efforts are scattershot at best.

“Just about every foreclosed property on my beat has some kind of problem,” said Derek Smitheram, a police officer in East Oakland, which he said has thousands of vacant homes.

On Thursday, a single hour with Smitheram’s partner – both are what Oakland calls “problem-solving officers” – dramatized the extent of foreclosure blight.

Officer Mark Castillo pulled up to a vacant foreclosure near International Boulevard that was surrounded by mounds of garbage. After checking on the house, he went to the backyard and grasped the boards nailed in front of the garage door. The door readily opened, and he recoiled from the stench of urine and filth. Inside, an elderly man huddled on a makeshift bed surrounded by fast-food wrappers, matches and old clothes.

“I know I can’t be here,” the man, Alfonso Granera, 71, told Castillo. He agreed to meet the officer in a couple of hours for a ride to a shelter.

“These places quickly become a breeding ground for all kinds of crime,” Castillo said, pointing out the crawl spaces under the house, which he said criminals use for illegal stashes. “Drug crews run a corner, they use vacant properties to hide drugs and weapons.”

Needle, used condom
At a boarded-up foreclosure a few blocks away, Castillo found a hypodermic needle and used condom in the backyard.

“We board this place up at least once a month,” he said. “After a week or two, we get calls from the neighbors; we come out, and it’s been broken into again. We have done more of these than we can count – we clean them up and secure them, then people break in again and trash them. It could even be the same day.”

A study by the nonprofit research Center for Responsible Lending found that a foreclosure lowers the value of nearby homes by an average of about $6,000. The study projects that 2.4 million homes will be taken back by lenders this year, having a spillover effect on another 73 million homes.

At foreclosed properties, “we’ve encountered trespassers, squatters and activities such as drug use and prostitution,” Smitheram said. “There is a lot of gang graffiti and vandalism – stripping the properties of anything of value. Some become a dumping ground for litter. Some are used as a burglary clearinghouse – thieves will burglarize other homes in the neighborhood and store the stolen goods in the vacant foreclosure.”

Cities deal with the vacant foreclosures as best they can.

Many turn to anti-blight ordinances to try to force the banks that own the foreclosures to take care of them – mow the lawns, board up windows and doors – or face stiff fines if they don’t. A California bill enacted in September (SB1137) allows municipalities to charge lenders $1,000 a day for failing to maintain foreclosed properties; some cities already have similar anti-blight provisions in place.

Taking aggressive approach
Some municipalities aggressively try to nip problems in the bud.

Starting April 1, San Jose assigned three code enforcement officers “to focus on proactively identifying vacant, neglected properties and taking actions to make them safe, secure and sanitary,” said Jamie Matthews, division manager for code enforcement in San Jose. Redevelopment funds cover the costs because most San Jose foreclosures are concentrated in areas included in the city’s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, he said.

Pittsburg marshals staff from several departments to monitor foreclosures, said Marc Grisham, city manager.

“I go out and drive the streets every day,” he said. “Everybody is charged with the task. We tag the vacant property. We do everything to track down who’s currently in control of it. If the banks are unresponsive to our first contact, police officers call them; that usually gets their attention.”

Pittsburg uses “vigorous” fines and liens to recoup its costs. “We just got a check from the county for a couple of hundred thousand dollars for liens,” Grisham said.

Daily fine in Oakland
John Russo, Oakland city attorney, said the city is gearing up to use California’s new foreclosure-blight law to force lenders to maintain their properties.

The $1,000-a-day fine “is a powerful tool for some tough and fair negotiations with banks,” he said. “The most important thing is to have banks understand that it’s not OK to treat foreclosed properties just like numbers on their ledgers; these are actual homes in the fabric of our neighborhoods. If banks have several properties on a block that they’re holding, waiting for the market to turn, maybe they need to hire security guards. That is their responsibility; it is their property.”

Robert Klein, CEO of Safeguard Properties, which works for lenders to secure and care for foreclosed homes nationwide, said 85 to 90 percent of foreclosures are safe and sound. His firm conducted 1 million foreclosure inspections last month, including 75,000 in California.

“Most properties are well maintained,” said Klein, who chairs the Mortgage Bankers Association Vacant Property Registration Committee. Blighted homes “are the exception, not the rule.”

Klein said Safeguard contractors take extra steps in areas of high vandalism, such as doing weekly inspections.

“But we’re limited in what we can do,” he said. “We can’t put cages around the properties.”

Actually, in Oakland, the public works department sometimes has erected tall chain-link fences around troublesome foreclosures.

“This is what we like them to look like,” Castillo said, showing off a boarded-up foreclosure protected by such a fence. “We’re trying to eliminate that nexus of criminal activity and blight in the neighborhood.”

But a well-secured foreclosure is a rarity in his East Oakland beat area, Castillo said. Instead, the properties “are a huge addition to our workload.

“It’s the broken-window theory,” he said. “If you allow visible blight to enter your neighborhood, it sends a message to the criminal element that they can do whatever they want.”

What to do about foreclosures next door
Police and city officials want neighbors to act as their eyes and ears to help monitor foreclosure problems.

— Report any suspicious activities to the local police department.

— If a property is blighted – broken windows, overgrown lawn – call your city’s code enforcement division or public works department.

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.